BY ZEYNEP GURCANLI
Former US President Donald Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia was a hot topic. Although the media coverage of the visit highlighted the sword dance by Trump with the Saudis and the poses struck by Arab leaders and the US President with placing their hands on a symbolic orb, the critical part of the visit was the American weapons purchase by the Saudis.
Trump also managed to reconcile Arab countries with Israel during his presidency. By not participating in the Abraham agreements, Saudi Arabia is the only Gulf country that has not yet made peace with Israel. Now the Americans are trying to make up for this lack.
US President Joe Biden is going to Israel in mid-July and then to Saudi Arabia. It is not known what will happen in the publicized part of this trip, but it is highly likely that the main topic to be discussed will be American weapon systems.
Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz let slip a clue to this end: a Middle East joint air defense system is being established.
THE TARGET IS CLEAR: IRAN
Gantz in a speech before the Israeli parliament announced that his country is on its way to “forming a defensive alliance” with Arab countries. He also explained the aim of this alliance: to counter the Iranian threat. The Israeli Minister also said that the joint defense system being established “has already neutralized some of Iran’s attacks” and added that “the defense alliance will be further strengthened by US President Biden’s visit to the region next month.”
Israel’s biggest expectation from Biden’s visit is that the US President will persuade Saudi Arabia to join the Abraham agreements. The rest is easy. Cooperation against a common enemy, Iran, starts with a shared air defense system. Who knows, maybe this will become a “Middle East NATO”.
The joint air defense system that Israel and the Arabs started to build with US backing consists, for now, of each country controlling its own air defense system from its own territory. A joint military base is not yet being considered. However, a joint working system is being created for Israel and the Arabs to use shared air defense elements, most of which they have purchased from the USA, in a “coordinated” manner against Iranian attacks.
Of course, new elements will be added to this system. Thus, Biden will give life to the American economy with the new weapon systems he will sell to the Arabs, just as his predecessor Trump did.
TURKEY IS OUT OF BUSINESS
Turkey seems to be excluded from this defense cooperation agreement. Although the ruling AK Party government has once made peace with Israel, which President Erdogan himself accused of using “state terrorism” against the Palestinians, it is too early to move on to “common defense.” Moreover, the election in Turkey is nearing. It is difficult to explain and make the voters accept sharp turns in both Saudi Arabian relations and Israeli relations. Adding “defensive cooperation” to this may increase the volume of objections coming from the AK Party base.
Still, Ankara’s hosting of both Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman – with the Khashoggi murder forgotten – and Israeli Foreign Minister Lapid – who will become Israeli Prime Minister next week – in the same week are signs that things will progress faster than expected.
The second problem for Ankara is its conflict with the US due to the purchase of S-400 missile systems from Russia. Even if Ankara wants to join the Middle East Air Defense Alliance, it is difficult to get involved because of sanctions imposed by Washington. Add to this the fact that President Erdogan’s calls for a “closer relationship” to US President Biden have been ignored. The US administration did not even react to the Turkish veto of Sweden and Finland’s NATO membership, although it was critical to countering Russia’s aggression. Ankara never got the attention it expected from the Biden administration, and it doesn’t look like it will.
US President Joe Biden’s visit to the Middle East will be critical in terms of regional balances. For now, the establishment of the anti-Iran Arab-Israeli front seems to be going well.
But this is the Middle East, where everything can change quickly.
We still remember Turkey’s attempts to establish the Islamic Army together with the Saudi and other Gulf Arabs in 2016. The unfortunate fate of the “Islamic Army”, which was embraced by the AK Party government at that time, need not be mentioned.
The fate of the Israeli-Arab joint defense system, which Israel is now a primary target, may not be so different.